2018 The year in highlights!

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Wow what a year 2018 has been! It marked the conclusion of the Italian renovation of La Fortezza which was a milestone indeed.

Our second season of the La Fortezza workshops were a huge success. We had the opportunity to delve into our region in Italy more deeply, and we welcomed 40 guests this year.

We also welcomed our new chef, Chef Philip Meeker, to our workshops. We cooked in the kitchen with Angie Moser, preserved, jarred and canned and cooked with Domenica Marchetti and enjoyed showing James Beard Award winning Chef Rebecca Wilcomb our region. We introduced Rebecca, Angie and Philip to some local slow food artisans and purveyors. We harvested our vineyard and pressed olive oil at the local press with students in tow. We seasoned our new pizza oven and cooked with all the local products with locals. We ate every single thing out of our kitchen garden. We hunted truffles and sampled our wine (non stop) it was amazing.

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Testaroli tasting

Testaroli tasting

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Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

Truffle huntiing followed by a 4 course truffle lunch, left us stuffed and sleepy.

We had Steve McKenzie paint with our guests. Lucky for us, he will be returning in 2019 to stay for a month and paint a collection that will conclude in our first ever Art Exhibition at La Fortezza.

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It was a rewarding year, and with rewards naturally come some challenges. After all renovating a 12th century fortress in the Italian countryside can be bit daunting, but if you know me, you know I love a challenge. It’s great fodder for my next book, my third book, Italy is my Boyfriend.

Speaking of books, this was the year my passion project, Cocktail Italiano, was published in April. I was overwhelmed by the support and how much everyone loves the book. We’ve put it up for a Book Award, so keep your fingers crossed, and I will most definitely let you know if it wins. To all of you who came out to various book signings, know I loved meeting all of you, chatting about my favorite subject, Italy, and hearing all of your travels and impressions of my adopted country.

Me with Penny Randolph who illustrated my map

Me with Penny Randolph who illustrated my map

Me mixing up a Campari Shakerato from my book

Me mixing up a Campari Shakerato from my book

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Here’s to hoping that 2019 will be filled with new adventures, and new friends. I look forward to meeting all of you at our workshops, and of course, I am excited to send my 3rd book off to the publishers in the spring.

Happy and healthy new year to everyone, and big grazie to all that made 2018 a perfect year. Cheers to La Fortezza and many dinners and drinks on the terrace with all those we love.

xx Annette

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…leaving Italy 2018

 

2018 has been the year of renovation. We switched into full gear this year, renovating the rest of our fortress. We added a kitchen, a lounge area next to the kitchen, 6 guest rooms, a kitchenette and a new outdoor seating area outside the dependence (the out building that serves as 3 guest rooms).

It was challenging in a way I have never been challenged. That is saying a lot as I have built and renovated many residential and commercial spaces, but this one was a beast. It was challenging but not why you think. Our contractor, project manager and geometra (the architect/engineer, that is required for any construction in Italy) were incredible. The electrician, painter, plumber and marble guy were top notch. Mostly, everyone working on the project was really efficient. However, the mere  scope of the project was daunting. Resurrecting a medieval fortress is not for the faint of heart.

I am happy to say that it’s all behind us. It is finished. We still have many projects ahead, but the idea that the majority of the renovation is history is quite frankly the best feeling in the world.

I loved all the workshops this year. The privates were fulfilling, and everyone who attended this year had a special point of view. I loved doing our wedding shoot; it was fun to imagine a wedding at La Fortezza. Frank and I really had a blast with all of our guests and loved showing everyone our little part of Italy.

La Fortezza guest rooms were a hit with all of our guests, too which was especially rewarding after all of our hard work. Everyone loved all the special touches, and it was really fun hosting everyone. All the aperitivi and all the suppers and discussions around the table were exactly how I imagined it would be. It warms my heart that I made so many new friends and got visit with old friends as well. I hope everyone comes to visit us again. Such precious memories make all the work the past 2 1/2 years so worth it!

Many ask if I am sad to leave Italy. I am sad, but being back in the US with my family and friends is great. I will be back next spring and in the meantime, I am enjoying all the peace of not making renovation decisions every day, but I will miss all the group dinners under the stars and the moon. Until next year…

xx I will miss you Italy. cin cin

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Announcing:: Our 2019 Italian Workshops at La Fortezza

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LA SERRA MK TEXTILE ATELIER

LA SERRA MK TEXTILE ATELIER

As some of you may know, we bought a dreamy medieval fortress aptly named, La Fortezza in the countryside of northern Tuscany,  a region known as Lunigiana. Over the course of the past few years, we have worked tirelessly to create a stunning atmosphere for our guests to attend workshops and retreats, create alongside the best instructors in the business, enjoy long dinners under the Tuscan sky, and rest their heads after a day of exploring.

This past summer, we completed our guest quarters and additional guest rooms, and we hosted several inspiring creative retreats for visionaries from around the world. We’ve enjoyed meeting everyone and working with attendees from all over the world.

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And now, I am delighted to announce our spring and summer 2019 Italian workshops roster. Beginning next spring, we will offer our traditional styling workshops and several one on one experiences with me. We will also offer, for the first time, a once in a lifetime artist in residence program, and an amazing styling workshop with three of our best instructors: Eliza Honey, Joanna Hawley, and Maren Ellingboe.

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Perhaps most exciting announcement is our Artist in Residence opportunity with Steve McKenzie. Steve, an accomplished interior designer, textile designer, and abstract painter, will spend the entire month of July painting under the Tuscan sun. As a guest at La Fortezza, you will be able to paint and or assist Steve, shop with him for supplies at an charming art store in the artsy town of Sarzana, discuss his style, or learn more about your own painting techniques. You can book as many days on our property as are available. I’d love to have you join us during this magical artistic experience.

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If you are an aspiring stylist, new blogger, experienced stylist, or experienced blogger looking for some new inspiration, you must book a one on one workshop with me. This workshop will consist of styling lessons, prop shopping at all of my favorite haunts, cooking, and even discussions about styling and production, including the business side of things and making your brand stand out to get clients. If you want to hang out with me and learn all of my styling secrets, plan to book this one of a kind experience.

During all workshops, we go on many excursions to flea markets and local farmers’ markets to buy food and products to use in our shoots and at our cooking lessons. You will meet the locals and experience Italy Italian style. We have so many amazing resources including our neighbors who run various food artisan businesses. Because we live here, we are so well connected. We have a wide array of resources for flea marketing, antiquing and prop hunting, too, so those excursions are always a part of our workshop experiences. Day trips to Florence are an easy 2 hour drive. Cooking lessons with our workshop chef is possible as well, yoga is also available on request.

Making our workshops even more unique is that you will stay on the Fortress compound with us surrounded by breathtaking views. We pride ourselves in offering everyone newly renovated and comfortable accommodations. Rooms are simple and authentic. We like to think of the design aesthetic as bohemian and monastic, a unique countryside take and pared down design. All rooms feature wifi and their own bathrooms. We have a private chef and all workshops include cooking lessons in our stunningly outfitted commercial kitchen.

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We pride ourselves on providing one-on-one personalized instruction for everyone, therefore classes are limited to 6-8 students max. Our instructors have 10+ years of real life experience in the professional photography field, or field of study, working for real publications, and with commercial clients and in the fine arts. We are very selective about who we bring to teach in this very exclusive learning experience with seasoned professionals.

Of course, as always, there will be plenty of eating and wine drinking especially since we are now the owners of our own vineyard. Drinking our own wine is really something special!

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Visit our workshops and retreats page to learn more about each of our 2019 summer workshops! There are only a few spots available, so act fast!

A Note about La Fortezza’s Guest Instructors Program: We will have a few surprise guest artisans/instructors cooking and styling and teaching art in 2019. Our goal is to network and create beauty with amazing talents from all over the world. We want La Fortezza to be worldwide creative haven where the best of the best teach and mentor other creatives from all over the world. A real creative cooperative where like-minded people can meet and create in the most gorgeous, untouched region in Italy. If you’re interested in conducting a workshop, please email me. We are welcoming all sorts of workshops and retreats next year!

photo cred: Infraordinario

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renovation update: our final phase the dependence, 3 bedrooms 3 bathrooms

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Before of the now main floor bathroom

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The last and final piece of our renovation was an out building, the dependence. It was a very fallen down structure when we bought the Fortress. Forgotten and neglected, I knew it would be make a fun and funky addition to our compound. We brought it back to life last summer by literally rebuilding the structure stone by stone. Reinforcing the structure, tying it together with earthquake bars and creating lofts and doorways. In many ways, it was one of my favorite projects, and the design possibilities were both endless and limited. Endless, because we could put anything into the space, limited because the size was finite, and we needed to house specific features: 3 bedrooms and 3 baths. I love when projects are so precise in nature.

We came up with a clever design for the smallest room: the bathroom would be on the main floor and the sleeping nook in the loft above. It turned out great with lots of character as I used an antique wooden and zinc tub as the vessel that would be the shower. I found a ready made vintage library staircase that fit perfectly into the space and leads to the sleeping loft. A Moroccan window shutter became the door, and we retrofitted an iron cage as a hanging lamp.

The other 2 bedrooms are situated in the room next door. We decided that the best thing was to make it an a joined room sharing the loft space. Although it is a shared space, there is a sense of privacy because of the half wall. The only shared space is the ceiling. Each room has its own bath and its own entrance.

The dependence has a wonderful outdoor seating area overlooking the vineyard which is a completely different view from the terrace that has mountain views. I am pretty pleased with the outcome.

The proof will be in the next weeks as fall workshops begin. I’ll keep you posted. x

Before

Before

Many thanks to my design partner Forrest. Although it’s come to an end, we will always be collaborating. x

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A Visit to the Enchanted Valley through the Palette of Steve McKenzie

Today I have a special treat for you. One of our guest instructors and one of my dear friends, Steve McKenzie, is sharing a bit about his experience in May at La Fortezza. Steve is a brilliant interior designer, artist, and textile designer in Atlanta. His workshop here in Italy with us is in September, and I cannot wait to welcome him and his students. Enjoy today’s post from Steve, and be sure to sign-up for one of the very few remaining spots for his workshop. Take it away Steve:

My wife, Jill, and I recently had the chance to visit Annette at her magical Fortress in a verdant valley in Northern Tuscany. I wanted to see everything as I prepare for the abstract painting class I will be leading there in September. Inspiration is everywhere, and I cannot wait to return.

The magic begins as you approach her home, and up on the mountain sits her Fortress. They have created beautifully appointed living and working spaces as well as incredibly comfortable guest quarters for the students that are unparalleled. It feels a little like a visit to a monastery where the furnishings and the views take you to a place of contemplation and inspiration.

These cozy places, coupled with a superb cocktail, encourage congregation and conversation.

We were greeted in typical Annette fashion with a delicious, as well as beautiful, Aperitivo of Negroni and nibbles, taken straight out of her new book, Cocktail Italiano. A delicious dinner of pasta and salad followed, reminding me of what a talented cook Annette is.  I am excited that a cooking lesson in the commercial kitchen will be part of our fall workshop.

Day two we had a chance to visit the charming local village, Fivizzano, on market day. It is charming and again, inspiration is around every corner. Following our visit to the market, we visited some of Annette’s favorite vintage and antique dealers. These are a must during the workshop on our free day.

I also strolled over to the La Fortezza vineyards with Annette and Jill. The beauty of this location really spoke to me and inspired me to paint en plein air.  During the workshop, we will take a picnic lunch out here and paint, eat and drink. The colors and vistas are one of the most inspirational places I have visited.

On the journey back to the house, I filled a market basket with wild flowers from the property as well as colorful roses from her rose garden. The most beautiful arrangement quickly came together in a beautiful pitcher from Annette’s copper collection. We will incorporate a quick floral arranging lesson during my workshop as well.

I can’t wait to return and share all the fabulous experiences with my students during the workshop September 19-24, 2018.

There are only a few spaces left, so register now

Thank you for guest posting today, Steve! As always, if you have questions about our workshop, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below.

xx Annette

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